Failure to implement Animal Diseases & Meat Safety Acts: urgent appeal by Red Meat Industry Forum, National Emergent Red Meat Producers' Organisation, African Farmers Association
The Red Meat Industry Forum, supported by the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation and the African Farmers Association of South Africa, presented a comprehensive and damning report on the Department's performance on a range of issues. The loss of South Africa's Foot-and-Mouth disease free status was the most important issue raised by the RMIF. The severe economic consequences of the disease on the red meat industry and the country as whole was a major concern with losses estimated at R4 billion annually. The presentation addressed the factors that lead to the loss of South Africa's Foot-and-Mouth disease free status and the various steps required to regain the disease free status it previously enjoyed, such as erecting and maintaining adequate border fences, proper import legislation and a range of other issues. The RMIF said it would take the country at least two years of focused determination to regain its Foot-and-Mouth disease free status.
The RMIF described this appeal to the Portfolio Committee as the last step before taking legal action against the Department to ensure it fulfilled its statutory obligations to the industry and the country. The RMIF said it felt as if it was treated as an adversary and the Department had continually failed to consult or effectively communicate with stakeholders, even failing to acknowledge receipt of RMIF correspondence.
The Committee was highly critical of the Department's performance and echoed the need for more meaningful communication from the Department. Members commented that the Department could not carry on with business as usual. Many of these issues had been repeatedly raised in Parliament and the Committee had requested a briefing on the Foot-and-Mouth disease status for almost six months. No other country operated in this manner but worked closely with its organised industries. The RMIF was thanked and urged to await the Department's detailed response which the Committee demanded of the Department.
Reasons for submission
Adv Epstein said the RMIF had tried for a prolonged period to interact with the Minister and the Department but they both failed to even acknowledge the RMIF's overtures. This submission to Parliament was considered as a last resort to appeal to the Committee to ensure steps were taken to remedy the situation and return the industry to a viable status.
The RMIF had even offered to fund the establishment of an Independent Meat Inspection service. But to date had not received a response nor an acknowledgement of receipt of its business proposal nor its offer of consultation.
The establishment of the Independent Meat Inspection service was a statutory obligation on the Department, and the RMIF was offering to assist with and fund what was essentially the Department's obligation.
Similarly the Department had a statutory obligation to maintain the good condition of the nation’s border fences to protect the country from proliferation of Foot-and-Mouth disease as well as regaining South Africa's Foot-and-Mouth disease free status. He referred the Committee to Annexure B1 in the submission to which he said the RMIF had also not yet received an acknowledgement of receipt.
Mr S Abram (ANC) asked from which document Adv Epstein was quoting as the Committee had received the substantial submission at a very late stage. Many of the documents in the submission were not numbered.
Adv Epstein requested an adjournment to paginate the documents and make them more user friendly.
Ms N Twala (ANC) adjourned the meeting.
Adv Epstein read the memorandum from the Director of Animal Health contained in the submission wherein it was outlined that the Department should consult with relevant industry organisations. Yet despite its requests to consult, the RMIF had yet again not even received an acknowledgement of receipt. There was no more relevant organisation in the industry than the RMIF and the Department clearly had a duty to consult with it.
On the 22 March 2011 the Minister published a notice stating two policy alternatives regarding the importation of cloven hoofed animals from other African countries; either maintain the status quo, an import ban, or develop a policy to allow cloven hoofed animals into the Republic.
The RMIF put forward its recommendation but yet again did not receive an acknowledgement of receipt much less a response to its recommendation. The RMIF's position, put forward to the Department, was that importation was in order provided a policy or protocol was established beforehand to inform the process. To the best of the RMIF's knowledge, no such policy existed nor had there been any progress in drafting one.
Adv Epstein said it was dangerous to compare South Africa to other countries but it was instructive that countries such as Brazil and Argentina had thriving red meat industries. These industries were actively encouraged by their governments, while in South Africa the Department seemed to treat the RMIF as an adversary. The Department appeared to have a negative reaction to any RMIF proposal, no matter how meritorious or commendable the proposal might be.
He emphasised the RMIF was not an adversary of the Department, as it too was working for the benefit of the country as a whole. There were many opportunities to create employment within the industry but steps were required to actualise these opportunities. Currently it seemed that steps were not being taken, even when required by legislation.
Adv Epstein said he would deal principally with two pieces of legislation in the meeting: the Meat Safety Act and later the Animal Diseases Act; and thereby show where there had been a lack of response to overtures from the RMIF. This would indicate where the Department was letting itself and the industry down.
He reiterated that the RMIF was by far the largest agricultural industry in South Africa, and a key partner for consultation with the industry.
Meat Safety Act
Regarding the Meat Safety Act, Adv Epstein focussed on the registration of abattoirs and the establishment of an Independent Meat Service. The Meat Safety Act was assented to on 27 October 2000 and commenced on 1 November 2000. Reading from the Act, its express purpose was:
“To provide for measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products; to establish and maintain essential national standards in respect of abattoirs; to regulate the importation and exportation of meat; to establish meat safety schemes; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”
He said the Department had not adhered to meat safety particularly in respect to the registration of abattoirs and the establishment of an Independent Meat Service.
Currently the functions of meat inspection envisaged by the establishment of the Independent Meat Service, had been assigned to the various provinces. But the Provincial Departments' differing interpretation of their functions resulted in a failure to enforce the Act and a failure to ensure uniform compliance. The selective enforcement of the Meat Safety Act and its Regulations, placed a burden on compliant operators in the abattoir industry that placed them at a price disadvantage against those abattoirs that flouted regulations.
He said this had a profoundly negative impact on the industry and imperiled the rights and interest of the South African consumer and food safety throughout the Republic. The RMIF insisted on the need for abattoirs to be registered and the Department honouring its obligation to ensure compliance with legislation.
Adv Epstein read Section 11(1)(c) of the Meat Safety Act and explained that the requirement to establish an Independent Meat Inspection service was a requirement of the Act. There was currently no regulated system of meat inspection service as this function was performed by abattoir owners themselves who by definition had profit incentives to consider and this resulted in a conflict of interest. The Minister had, since 2000, yet to nominate the authorised person to perform this function.
This failure resulted in carcases that were unfit for human consumption being approved by abattoirs because of financial incentives. He said this was a complete failure of consumer rights.
Adv Epstein referred to Annex A2 in the submission and said the RMIF, other relevant industries and the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services agreed on a proposal to establish an Independent Meat inspection Service. However the Department failed to respond and the RMIF felt the 'proposal had been blocked'. To date no response had been forthcoming from the Department on this proposal.
Animal Diseases Act
Adv Epstein read the purpose of the Animal Diseases Act: “To provide for the control of animal diseases and parasites, for measures to promote animal health, and for matters connected therewith.”
He said it had come to light in a recent court case that it appeared a practice of private quarantine of imported animals existed in South Africa to which the RMIF strongly objected. The RMIF had no evidence of this but based on information received it appeared to be a practice in South Africa. There was an inherent conflict of interest in this practice and Section 5 of the Animal Diseases Act called on the Department to establish quarantine stations, and not the owners of quarantined animals.
Adv Epstein said South Africa needed to establish a proper policy for the importation of cloven hoofed animals. But this could not be done until a proper risk analysis had been done in accordance with the Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to which South Africa, as signatory, had to comply. South Africa simply could not have an importation policy without conducting a risk analysis.
Adv Epstein read section 18 of the Animal Diseases Act which called for the for the erection and maintenance of fences for control measures, including fences on South Africa’s international borders, by the Department. The Department’s fulfilment of this duty to maintain fences had for years safeguarded South Africa by preventing disease entering from neighbouring countries. Unfortunately the poor condition of the border fences of late had made the industry particularly susceptible to the spread of diseases from our neighbouring countries.
He referred to Annex B1 and said the RMIF wrote to the Department and communicated the need to mend the border fences and restore them to a functioning condition in line with legislation but had to date received no acknowledgement of receipt of such a communication.
Adv Epstein said the RMIF was running out of options and the only step left to it was to apply to court for a court order compelling the Department to fulfil its statutory obligations. Perhaps because the RMIF had previously gone the legal route, the Department viewed it as an adversary. The RMIF did not want to be seen as such but felt there was no other remaining alternative.
He supported the separation of government and the judiciary and did not want the judiciary to interfere with the function of government but reiterated it appeared the RMIF was left with no other option. He asked the Committee to acknowledge the seriousness of these problems, especially the need to mend border fences.
The maintenance of South African border fences was an important measure to protect the industry from infectious diseases and specifically to gain the reinstatement of the country's Foot-and-Mouth disease free status. The required processes to reinstate a Foot-and-Mouth disease free status were onerous and time consuming. Last time it had cost the country two years of negotiation on its Foot-and-Mouth disease free status, which was regained in February 2011. It was simply removed from the list of Foot-and-Mouth disease free states yet again due to the recent outbreak of the disease in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
He said it was difficult to calculate the direct and indirect costs of Foot-and-Mouth disease to the country. This had contributed to a loss to livestock industries of approximately R4 billion annually. A report had been done on this but it had not been made available to the RMIF. The losses resulting from the Foot-and-Mouth disease status in the country should not simply be viewed as a number but the enormous amount of money it represented for South Africa, especially when looking at the country's current trade deficit.
The industry's hands were tied as they could not import or export and a dramatic intervention was required as it would be very difficult to regain South Africa's Foot-and-Mouth disease free status, which the country had been rightfully very proud to have in the past. The Director General should take all necessary steps to ensure the country's border fences were reinstated to their previous good condition as stated in the court order contained in the submission.
Swan Vest case
Adv Epstein said a company named Swan Vest was trying to import 153 Sable antelope from Zambia. A previous attempt to do this, known as the Kemp case, was previously turned down as it posed a foot-and-mouth risk. Swan Vest obtained these antelope very cheaply but each has the value of R 750 000 in South Africa and would make Swan Vest a considerable profit from importing them. Adv Epstein said when contemplating the considerable danger posed by Foot-and-Mouth disease to the country, decisions could not be taken on balance of probabilities as there was simply no margin of acceptable risk. Fortunately the Department realised that these permits should not be issued and the parties came to a mutual agreement. The court order was issued where the Department undertook not to issue permits for the importation of Sable Antelope until certain conditions were met including the establishment of a policy framework and a proper risk analysis.
Adv Epstein reiterated that the RMIF was not aware that any risk analysis had been done as of yet. The RMIF did not know where these Sable antelope currently were but these animals held great financial value. Some of the animals had died but the RMIF was unsure whether these were replaced. Swan Vest had previously said it was concerned for the health of these animals. Adv Epstein said the RMIF supposed they were still in Zambia and expressed the hope that they did not make their way into South Africa. Swan Vest wanted to make another legal application for an import permit to be issued despite the fact that as yet no policy existed. The RMIF opposed this application.
Adv Epstein said previously compensation had been set at market related prices but current legislation stated that the Director General would determine the rate of compensation, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. He asked if the Department was waiting for a crisis before consultation was initiated. He also asked if consultation would take place on a case by case basis or whether the consultation was required to develop a policy framework. “We don’t know, we ask, but were simply ignored.'
Lesotho grazing permits
Years ago when Lesotho was experiencing drought, South Africa provided affected farmers with grazing permits which allowed cattle owners to graze on South African land. This practise had simply continued even though Lesotho was no longer suffering from drought conditions. He said a number of problems had arisen from these grazing permits, permits were often misused by farmers, some permits were incorrectly issued, there was no expiry date attached to permits and this posed an increased risk to animal health and stock theft in South Africa. The RMIF believed it was time to withdraw these permits in order to protect the South African industry and citizens.
Proposed Fertilizers and Feeds Bill
Adv Epstein said the introduction of this Bill would mean that farmers who were currently allowed to mix their own feed without any restrictions, would be forced to purchase feed from the more established feed producers. The Bill required feed mixing equipment to be registered and only larger companies would be able to afford this process. Smaller farmers would be forced to buy from the major players in the industry. This would be detrimental to especially the small and rural farmers.
He asked the Committee to ask these important questions when the Bill was tabled in Parliament.
Loss of SA Export to EU of certain animal products
Adv Epstein said the Committee had to be concerned with conduct of Department as the RMIF would not lightly accuse the Department of negligence or indifference. He referred members to Annex E in the submission: the Executive Summary of a European Commission Report.
Until 2007, South Africa was listed by the European Commission of countries with approved monitoring plans for products which were slaughtered in approved facilities allowing them to be exported to European countries.
Adv Epstein said despite repeated EU requests for required information, the Department failed to produce the outstanding information. This resulted in the EU 's de-listing of South Africa as an approved importer to the EU of certain animal products.
The RMIF stated the: “The loss of export status of South African products is due solely to the deliberate inaction and/or gross negligence of the Department as this is endorsed by the EU reports on this matter.”
The Namibian government had established a small stock market to encourage the use of Namibian slaughtering facilities. This negatively impacted on South Africa where 10% of cattle slaughtered were of Namibian origin. The RMIF had informed the Department that this was contrary to the WTO, the SADC Protocol on Trade and the SACU Agreement. The South African government had to take the necessary steps to protect South African industries as the Namibia was now penalising Namibian stock exports for slaughter in South Africa
Adv Epstein quoted the conclusion of its submission: “The issues addressed in this submission make it clear that the Minister and the Department are failing in their statutory obligations and jeopardising the long term viability of the Red Meat Industry and the well being of the South African consumer.”
South Africa had becoming a net importer of food and suffered reduced employment figures in the agricultural industry.
National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (NERPO) comments
Mr Aggrey Mahanjana, Group Managing Director: National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, said he agreed with the submission presented to Parliament. The submission was thoroughly substantiated with facts and supporting documents. He said small scale farmers were extremely concerned with the failure of the Department to fulfil its own obligations and it was an act of genocide on our own South African industry, especially compared to the great lengths other nations went to, to develop their industries. He said it was often the emerging farmers who suffered the most from the challenges and diseases in the industry.
Referring to Department officials present at the meeting, Mr Mahanjana said the Minister had sent these “poor officials” to the meeting and he was unsure whether officials were the ones to be held to account. He said the Minister did not engage with its own people.
Mr Mahanjana said these documents should have been submitted to the Committee years ago but he continued trying to protect the Department until he could no longer do so. This was an embarrassment to a country like South Africa
African Farmers Association of South Africa comment
Mr Mike Mlengana, AFASA President, said that in the Budget Speech, the Minister had spoken of the creation of 50 000 commercial farmer by 2014. Yet as recently as the previous week, the Department requested a profile of emerging farmers from 'us'. Clearly the Department did not have a profile of emerging farmers. He questioned how the Department could commit to the creation of 50 000 emerging commercial farmers, when they did not have the profile of current emerging farmers.
The Acting Chairperson, Ms Twala, said the Committee would fulfil its oversight role and the Department officials should not be referred to as 'poor officials' as Mr Mahanjana did, officials had to be held accountable and responsible for the posts they held.
Mr S Abram (ANC) said it was unfair to expect the Department to respond to the very detailed submission before the meeting was adjourned in a few minutes. The submission had been very elaborate and substantiated with documentary proof. The Committee had taken note of the RMIF's views. He understood the RMIF position and said “to those who understand no explanation was necessary, to those who don’t understand no explanation is enough. I understand.”
Mr Abram said the Committee could not adjudicate on legal issues currently before judiciary but the Committee could ensure that the Department gave a thorough response to the issues raised in the meeting.
He said the Department was not very good at recording and providing an acknowledgement of receipt of documents received and it had to improve on this. He did not want to go into the whole submission but the Committee took serious note of this presentation.
Turning to the Department representatives, he said “We have been warning you people about the veterinary services in this country and about the border fence that needed repairs” The Department should read the budget debate in Hansard and beef up its reporting mechanism. Many issues had been raised in detail in this submission whereas the Department would typically not provide sufficient detail when reporting to the Committee. It was no longer acceptable to proceed with business as usual. The Committee needed more informative facts and figures in the similar vein to the RMIF's submission.
He asked how long it would have taken the Department to resolve the abattoir concerns and simply appoint the inspectors. He warned that the agricultural industry was not as healthy as many thought. The industry was in dire straits and the Department seemed to be taking its time, there was no longer time for business as usual.
The Committee would consider these issues after receiving a status report from the Department and take a firm resolution. He asked the Department to please listen to the industry and unless the Department accepted it was in a partnership with the people who bring food to the tables, “the Department is failing us”.
Ms N Phaliso (ANC) said representatives of the Department were considered competent enough to respond to the tasks imposed on them but she also wanted a serious meeting with the “owners of the house not just junior officials'” The Committee had repeatedly requested an urgent meeting on the Foot-and-Mouth disease status in South Africa. She agreed with Mr Abram on the need for a detailed response from the Department on food sustainability in the country.
Mr L Bosman (DA) said a full interrogation of all this information was required. He was amazed that an Independent Meat Inspector had not yet been appointed. He had raised all these issues in Parliament previously and the Committee had requested this meeting for almost six months. The Foot-and-Mouth disease and import related concerns had been “screaming for help” with numerous red flags being raised. He thanked the RMIF and urged them to await the Department's response. It was absolutely unacceptable that the Department did not even acknowledge receipt of correspondence. He had never seen a country operate in this manner. Every other government worked closely with its organised industries.
Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) said a comprehensive response was required and piecemeal answers were no longer sufficient.
The meeting was adjourned.